Tuesday, March 21, 2017

30 Days in NYC (Day 12) - South Brooklyn

   For the 12th day of our month in New York, it's back to Brooklyn for a chance to walk through some of the most handsome, historic, and charming neighborhoods in the city. These days, the neighborhoods south of Atlantic Avenue from Brooklyn Heights have a patchwork of names: Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Red Hook, and Gowanus. They have been divvied up by highway construction and by real estate interests. But for many generations, this was just called South Brooklyn. This area began development as a rural retreat but very quickly grew up with the growth of New York and its harbor in the 1830s. The area south of Atlantic Avenue officially became part of the City of Brooklyn in 1834 and was connected to Manhattan by the South Ferry in 1836. Stately homes were built that housed upper-middle class professionals and these remain the typical structures of South Brooklyn today. As the 20th century progressed, the wealthy residents moved out and were replaced by immigrants including the requisite Italians and Irish, but even some unique communities such as Syrian/Lebanese immigrants, who still have an influence along Atlantic Avenue, and Mohawk Indians drawn down from Canada to work on the high steel construction projects in Manhattan.

   It wasn't just houses being built here though. South Brooklyn proved ideal as a shipping center. South Brooklyn essentially was a peninsula. Buttermilk Channel, the waterway between Brooklyn and Governors Island and part of New York Harbor, is to the west. When the land abruptly ends at Red Hook the shoreline swings east and forms Gowanus Bay to the south. The east end of the neighborhood was pierced by a marshy lowland filled with brackish channels and sea grass called the Gowanus marshes. Over the middle of the 19th century, all of these waterways would be converted to shipping and industry. The Atlantic and Erie Basins were built as protected dockyards for ships in the 1840s and 1860s. By 1860, the Gowanus channel had been deepened and the marshes around it filled in to create an almost two mile long industrial canal. All this shipping attracted workers to staff the ships, warehouses, and factories. The area hummed as one of the busiest waterfronts in the world well into the 20th century when modern container ships would almost, but not completely, end the shipping to Brooklyn.

   Through it all, the stately homes from the mid-19th century remained in tact. As early as the 1950s well-heeled New Yorkers were eyeing the charming historic properties for renovation and preservation acts in the '60s and '70s assured that the simple and stately old homes would never disappear. Today, the streets are just as likely to be trod by wealthy professionals and their families as Sicilian dockworkers. But look closer and you may see the few cranes along Columbia Street are still unloading ships, and giant cruise lines call at Red Hook on their way to ports all over the world. And along the waterways of South Brooklyn the old warehouses now house breweries, art galleries, distilleries, and performance spaces. The old and new coexist on every street in South Brooklyn

Friday, February 17, 2017

30 Days in NYC (Day 11) - Williamsburg, Greenpoint, & Bushwick

   One of the most challenging facets of life in New York is the way the sand shifts under your feet constantly. Just as the desert dunes change place with the wind, neighborhoods in New York are constantly in flux. Where once was factories is now galleries and what was once the sights and smells of Italy are now Chinese. The character or appearance of a community can flip in a generation and it can be hard to keep up with the changes. And the places in New York City where the changes are fastest paced are in the northern neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Greenpoint, Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Ridgewood Queens have come to epitomize edgy cool. They have attracted artists, musicians, and other creative residents for the past 25 years. Hip residents first began by moving into the abandoned industrial spaces of the Williamsburg waterfront because of the rising rents in Manhattan. But the high rents have been spreading through North Brooklyn and so have the bars, galleries, street art, and cafes. But don't think that it's all bearded artists in these neighborhoods. Much of these neighborhoods are still defined by immigrants old and new. Williamsburg still counts old Italians and a growing Hasidic Jewish community among its residents. Greenpoint is still known as the center for Polish immigrants. And Bushwick is one of the most heavily Latino neighborhood in NYC with older Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants being replaced by Mexican and Ecuadoran arrivals. Many of the old cultural landmarks from these groups remain and their food and culture is a link to a past that seems to slip away faster all the time. So now is the time to explore the old and the new in North Brooklyn.

Monday, March 14, 2016

30 Days in NYC (Day 10) - Day Trip to Philadelphia

   If one were really taking a month long trip to New York City, there might be a moment or two when the crazy big city would start to grate a little. Ask any of us who live here how crazy the city can make you sometimes. So I figure it would be a good idea to get out of NYC for a few days out of the month. Besides, there are lots of other great things to see a short distance away. For many of the visitors to New York, especially from abroad, NYC is combined with a trip to Washington D.C. or up to New England and Boston. But these are really separate trips from NYC entirely. I have had clients who try to do Washington in a day trip, but the train journey is more than three hours each way. Even if you flew from Laguardia to National there are still hours spent in the airport. It seems crazy to me to spend 6 hours a day traveling and 6-8 hours at your destination. Plus it makes for a very tiring day. But there is another wonderful and historic city much closer to New York than Boston or Washington. It's the city of brotherly love: Philadelphia.

   I like Philadelphia a great deal. It's not as glamorous or ritzy as Boston, New York, or Washington but in many ways it's more charming. There are the famous sights where America's revolution and government began of course, and all through the city are historic streets and neighborhoods. There are wonderful markets and foods, great art and architecture, but also a great vibe and soul. It's a city just that defined the sound of disco and 70s soul. There's a lot to see, hear, and taste on a trip to Philly. And best of all, it's only a 90 minute train ride from Manhattan. So head over to Penn Station, and get aboard the soul train.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Best Month to Visit NYC

  What's the best time to come visit New York? It's a question fraught with variables. What are the crowds like? What is the traffic like? What's the weather like? And while any guidebook can provide some basics about average temperature, precipitation, and price, what you really need is an in-depth idea of the experience of visiting at a certain time. And each visitor is looking for something different. Some are travelling on a budget and so they need the best deals. Some want to experience the city at its most vibrant and energetic. Some want to see the big sights but don't want to wait in long lines. And some just hate the biting cold of winter of the harsh heat of summer.So we're going to take this month-by-month and give you an idea of what NYC is all about at different times of year. Best of all, there isn't really a bad time of year to visit. Every month has its pros and cons and there is something special about any time of year in New York. And first up is the first calendar month, is the least popular month to visit.

Friday, November 20, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 9) - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

   Day 9 is all about one of the greatest treasures in New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It would take weeks just to fully explore the museum. The figures are staggering. The museum's front stretches along for five blocks of 5th Avenue. Inside is two million square feet of exhibit space and a collection of more than three million pieces. The museum includes everything from contemporary 21st century art all the way back to a Persian jar from 5,700 years ago. It features fully reconstructed rooms from ancient Egypt, renaissance Italy, and 20th century Wisconsin. What I'm trying to say is, you aren't going to see the whole museum. Don't even try. In fact, even trying to spend a whole uninterrupted day there is exhausting. So I've developed a few strategies. I actually love going to the museum on Fridays and Saturdays when it is open until 9 PM. That allows me to break up the day by going for a few hours in the morning and then returning in the evening. So that's the way I'm going to lay it out today. As for what to see at the museum, that's really up to each visitor individually. There's so much to see that there's no need to focus on an area that doesn't interest you. So I'll focus on some of the most popular highlights as well as some personal favorites. But by no means will this be an exhaustive guide to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
   Finally, a note about the museum's admission policy: The Met requires visitors to pay to access the museum but visitors may pay any amount they like. So yes, if you want to be a jerk you can pay with a penny. As you enter the museum, there are ticket counters displaying an adult admission prices at a "recommended" $25. However, when buying your tickets you can pay any amount you feel comfortable with. I fully support anyone who pays the full admission fee. I also realize many people are unable or unwilling to pay the full amount and that is perfectly fine. The Met is meant, in both law and spirit, to be a place where everyone can appreciate the finest works of art in the history of the planet. There's no pressure to pay the full amount. And I've never found the ticket agents disagreeable if I decide to pay a smaller amount. It does make it slightly less awkward to have the exact amount in hand you want to pay, that way you just slap it down and ask for however many tickets you want.

Monday, August 24, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 8)- Queens

   For many years Queens was seen as the everyman, middle-class borough of New York City. It was seen as not only lacking Manhattan's glitz, but also lacking The Bronx's grittiness, Brooklyn's creativity, or even Staten Island or New Jersey's 'we get no respect' swagger. Queens has been the TV home of New York's unglamorous, mostly White middle class for years. From Archie Bunker, to the Costanzas on Seinfeld, to King of Queens and Fran Drescher's "Nanny." Essentially, Queens has a reputation for being boring. But things have changed in Queens over a generation. Queens is still home to the hard-working, unassuming residents it always has been, but now there's a twist. Queens is now the most ethnically and culturally diverse place on Earth. Immigrants from all over the world call Queens home and now foreign-born residents make up almost half of Queens' population. Exploring Queens is like making a trip around the world. You can taste the food and hear the music of cultures as varied as can be found anywhere.So it's time to put the sitcom tropes to bed and explore the incredible culture of Queens.

Day 8 - Queens (Forest Hills, Jackson Heights, and Flushing)

Morning - Unlike Manhattan and Brooklyn, Queens is a product of the 20th century. For most of the 18th and 19th centuries Queens was just farmland, with scattered towns or factories mixed in. Construction and development exploded with the completion of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909, the opening of Penn Station and the Long Island Railroad tunnel in 1910, and the first subway tunnels in 1915 and 1917. Suddenly and entirely undeveloped part of the city had rail, road, and subway access to Midtown Manhattan. Developers madly rushed into the void and began building houses and apartment buildings all over Queens. In some neighborhoods, developers were able to buy up farmland in large swaths and create entire communities. Forest Hills and Jackson Heights both were built up in this fashion and Forest Hills is where we start the morning. Multiple subway lines bring you to 71st Ave, the E and F are express from Manhattan and get you to Forest Hills in only a half hour from Midtown. Walking down 71st Ave brings you past the commercial strip of Austin Avenue, under the Long Island Railroad tracks and into Station Square, the grand entry to the Forest Hills Gardens section.

Monday, May 25, 2015

New York Reading List - The Great Bridge

   The Great Bridge by David McCollough is one of those wonderful pieces of non-fiction where a great historical event is rendered into such a irresistible narrative that the pages fly through your hand. The bridge to link Manhattan to Brooklyn for the first time took almost two decades and twisted through years of corruption, scandal, dedication, construction, illness, and tragedy. The Great Bridge is a detailed yet evocative report of every aspect of how the Brooklyn Bridge was built, from conception to completion.

A photo posted by Shawn (@nytourguy) on